Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain movie review: Sanjay Mishra is miscast in a tepid love saga saved by its leading ladies
The earnest lyrics, the soothing musical score and two cracking leading ladies are betrayed by the tepid writing of Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain’s second half.
castSanjay Mishra, Ekavali Khanna, Shivani Raghuvanshi, Pankaj Tripathi, Brijendra Kala, Anshuman Jha
Autumnal love tales hold out the promise of both yearning and hope. They speak either of happiness reclaimed and second chances claimed or of opportunities forever lost. Writer-director Harish Vyas’ Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain is one such. Produced by the National Film Development Corporation and Drumroll Pictures, it is the story of a middle-aged man who has taken his wife for granted through almost a quarter century of marriage but realises her worth when the possibility of losing her looms large.
Sanjay Mishra plays the silver-haired Varanasi-based post-office employee Yashwant Batra, who has shared his life and home for 24 years with his accommodating spouse Kiran (Ekavali Khanna). The couple has a college-going daughter, Preeti (Shivani Raghuvanshi), who is secretly involved with the local boy Jugnu (Anshuman Jha).
We have all seen couples like Yashwant and Kiran, the sort who seem to be together out of habit more than anything else, whose bond is sustained by custom and tolerance, not affection or attraction. In terms of thematic plausibility then, Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain is initially on solid ground. However, it stumbles after a while, because the screenplay runs out of imagination and is unable to take the story forward with conviction, depth or gravitas.
Firstly, it wants us to see that below his rough façade, Yashwant fosters a great love for Kiran after all. This claim is hard to swallow though considering that his behaviour towards her through the first half is not merely undemonstrative, it is outright selfish. His attitude goes beyond the social conditioning that leads him to tell Preeti: “She (Kiran) manages the house, I go to office – this is what you call a marriage.” It goes beyond the daughter’s admonition that he does not know the difference between love and duty. In truth, he is a narrow-minded patriarch who genuinely thinks it is the natural order of things that the entire household should revolve around him and his needs.
It is possible to buy into the house-bound Kiran’s longing for an expression of tenderness from her boring, brusque husband, but Yashwant’s post-interval claims of fondness for her defy believability, unless you accept the conventional notion that habit and love are the same thing. While this failing is largely due to weak writing, it does not help that Mishra – who has been so remarkable so often in the past – is unable to pull off the role. Not only is the veteran actor miscast here, he has zero chemistry with his heroine. He is a particularly awkward fit in scenes in which Yashwant belatedly courts Kiran. Far from injecting poignance or the intended humour into these passages, the writing, his acting and styling reduce the man to a caricature.
In sharp contrast to Mishra’s turn as Yashwant is Ekavali Khanna as Kiran. She is a knockout, an actor with a personality so arresting that you have to wonder why on earth we see so little of her in films. Khanna was in Sudhir Mishra’s Daas Dev last month, playing a poorly-sketched character. In a dominant role in Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain, she steals the show from right under the nose of the film’s more famous leading man.
When Kiran (in lovely cotton saris, I must add) is not around to overshadow him, the strong-willed Preeti does. The girl’s refusal to settle for a husband like her Dad is unapologetically articulated, a refreshing change from the dutiful tone good children compulsorily adopt towards the worst of parents in orthodox Bollywood. Her disgust for his self-centredness co-exists with love for him, whether instinctive or in recognition of his better qualities, far more credibly than the characterisation of Yashwant.
Shivani Raghuvanshi’s natural performance as the firebrand Preeti lives up to the expectations raised by her brilliance in 2015’s Titli. And Brijendra Kala as Jugnu’s father is fun to watch. Pankaj Tripathi, usually a critic’s delight, is wasted in a clumsily-written satellite role, as a devoted husband called Firoz Khan nursing his unwell wife.
Although the insertion of songs in the narrative is not always smooth, the pleasantness of Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain’s soundtrack compensates for this abruptness. It is a joy to hear Shaan’s distinctive voice after such a long time, partnered by the talented Vaishali Mhade and Pravin Kunwar in the sweet romantic track Meri ankhein composed by Kunwar. Another star singer, Mohit Chauhan, toplines Oni-Adil’s melodic Tera hua main jab se with its introspective lyrics by Pratibha Tiku. The album features an eclectic mix of numbers, all hummable, ranging from the catchy Aaj rang hai, which is Oni-Adil’s take on a traditional Amir Khusro qawwali, to a semi-classical piece and one wedding song.
Three numbers reportedly mark a return to films of the lyricist Yogesh whose past credits include the iconic Anand, Chhoti Si Baat and Baton Baton Mein. Yogesh writes in Meri ankhein: “Mere khayalo ke aasmaan par tum hi toh chhaaye ho / mere jivan mein leke bahaare tum hi toh aaye ho / main sach kahu toh tum jaan ban kar mujh mein samaaye ho.” (Roughly: My mind is filled with thoughts of you / you have ushered a spring into my existence / truth be told, you are the life that resides within my being.)
These earnest lyrics, the soothing musical score and two cracking women are betrayed by the tepid writing of Angrezi Mein Kehte Hain’s second half, belying the bunch of international festival awards listed in its trailer. The film derives its title from the song "Angrezi mein kehte hain ki I love you" in the Parveen Babi-Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Khud-Daar (1982), reminding us, as the strapline on the poster puts it, that you should “just say it!” The problem with Harish Vyas’ film is that though the hero does say it, he does not convince us that he feels it at all.
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